Old & Rare

Rare Batch 50

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J. B.Lawson's Special Liqueur Whisky, Caol Ila 1974 from Signatory, and Mortlach 1969 from Vintage Malt Whisky Co.

This week Angus MacRaild sets things on ‘shuffle’ for an eclectic and varied tasting of three disparate but excellent drams.

MacRaild dives straight into a Caol Ila 1974 by Signatory, which he finds no less than ‘totally stunning’ and well in keeping with many of its sibling casks. He notes that these whiskies, despite recent price increases on the secondary market, are still under appreciated compared to their peated contemporaries. Of course he’d clearly rather you all kept it that way.

Following on is a trip back in time with an old J. B. Lawson’s blend bottled around 1930. This bottle came with a handwritten neck tag reading: ‘kept from our wedding day, June 1st 1932’, with further instructions not to be opened. Thankfully it remained closed for a further 86 years before finding its way to MacRaild’s glass. He notes that it represents a style of whisky not made in Scotland since before the Second World War and is a terrific dram in its own right.

The final whisky is a very rare bottling of 1969 Mortlach bottled for France in 1992 by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company. MacRaild finds it a ‘delightfully elegant’ dram, full of classic Mortlach richness, fruit and waxy muscle. The perfect way to round off a terrific and extremely varied tasting.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Caol Ila 21 Years Old, 1974, Cask #12605 (Signatory)

    Caol Ila 21 Years Old, 1974, Cask #12605 (Signatory)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    59.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    There are so many brilliant ‘74 Caol Ilas, many from Signatory, and this one is no exception. A beautiful hazy shoreline full of wispy bonfire smoke, warm tar, antiseptic, preserved lemons in brine and burning heather. Pure, precise, chiselled and totally brilliant. Water really opens up the coastal aspect, lots of wet beach pebbles, sand, crushed seashells and raw oysters with a wee farmy hint of sheep wool. Totally fab.

    Palate

    Despite the high alcohol, it’s extremely easy going at natural strength. Lots of Mercurochrome, herbal toothpaste, earthy peat smoke, kippers in a kedgeree, and waxy lemons. More brininess, citrus oils, resinous peat, lime juice and fish sauce. With water the peat almost takes on a waxy texture: globally it becomes fatter, more oily – almost like an oil slick on the palate. Really magnificent with water. These elegant herbal tertiary notes, more medical complexities and some fresh lemon juice.

    Finish

    Looooooong. A really soft, smouldering sandalwood smokiness with more heather, dried kelp, seawater, soy sauce and a buttery spoonful of cullen skink.

    Conclusion

    Yet further evidence that they were making a totally stellar spirit at the newly constructed Caol Ila distillery from the get go in 1974. These bottlings are every inch the equal of Broras, Lagavulins and Port Ellens of similar era. Actually, scratch that, they’re shite, please don’t bother buying them! Thank you.

    Right place, right time

    A salty post fish ‘n’ chip snog on a blustery pier. 

    J.B. Lawson’s Special Liqueur Whisky, Bottled 1930s

    J.B. Lawson’s Special Liqueur Whisky, Bottled 1930s
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Blended Scotch whisky
    Region
    n/a
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    The kind of aroma that you can only find in whiskies from before WWII: an almost palpable greasiness. Truffles, soil, camphor, petrichor, engine oil, old boiler sheds, WD40, tool boxes, paint. There’s peat as well, which seems to form the underlying bedrock, but it’s as if that original peat character has been kind of deconstructed by time and laid out in its old school, fatty and gristled component parts. Old copper coins, steel wool, dried mixed herbs, burning newspaper and smouldering anthracite embers. Unlike anything that’s been produced in Scotland for the best part of a century and undoubtedly such a length of time in bottle has also played a role here. Fascinating, but also undeniably excellent as well.

    Palate

    It’s remarkable that, even at 30 under proof (40% abv) and with so many decades in glass, you still feel the strength, the texture and the weight of the spirit. Huge amounts of grease, hessian, canvas, waxes and mechanical oils. Ancient herbal liqueurs such as Benedictine and yellow Chartreuse. More copper coins, vegetable oil, hints of rancio, menthol cigarettes and eucalyptus oils. The malt components are obviously dominant but there’s also a sense of grain, with this faintly sharp, green appley side as well.

    Finish

    Surprising length. An old sooty chimney, coal scuttle, herbal extracts, cough medicine, tar liqueur and damp sackcloth in a dunnage warehouse.

    Conclusion

    A tough whisky to score. I think it’s excellent but there’s also an emotional aspect to it, and this rather extreme character would undoubtedly be divisive. I think it’s also an excellent example of how, for long-term storage, cork is the best capsule for whisky in terms of preservation of the spirit. Metallic capsules after this length of time almost always seem to leave a detrimental imprint upon the whisky. This was sealed with an old driven cork and is all the fresher for it.

    Right place, right time

    A short hop in the Tardis to properly investigate old bottle effect.

    Mortlach 23 Years Old, 1969 (The Vintage Malt Whisky Co.)

    Mortlach 23 Years Old, 1969 (The Vintage Malt Whisky Co.)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A beautiful concoction of exotic fruits, wood spices, a whole hive of beeswax and many specific tertiary notes such as tiger balm, pine resin, papaya, coconut milk and lime jelly. Gets increasingly herbal as well, lots of dried herbs and herbal extracts. Menthol, pear eau de vie, heather honey and precious hardwood oils. Pretty thrilling stuff really!

    Palate

    Wax and wonderfully spicy with these big notes of quince jelly, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. Some glazed and crystallised fruits, ripe banana, hessian, lemon cough drops and a whole fruit salad. Very juicy and extremely satisfying.

    Finish

    Long, perfectly drying, nibbling tannins, wood spices, herbal teas, green pepper, ointments and echoing waxiness.

    Conclusion

    A magnificent, although sadly extremely rare, wee beast. Had this been at cask strength I suspect we’d be comfortably into 93+ territory. As it is, it’s merely brilliant.

    Right place, right time

    The crowd called out for more!

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